Written by Sarah Louise • Updated Oct 25, 2021
How to incorporate cardio into your training plan for fat loss
If your goal is to burn fat, it’s likely you’ve thought to yourself “I better start doing cardio”, and maybe even “the more I do, the better”.
But that is not true. Yes, cardio is definitely recommended and will help you burn fat, but there is a certain strategy that doesn’t involve exhausting yourself on the treadmill every day.
Read this article to learn the good and the bad when it comes to adding cardio to your training routine.
Click to jump to either of these sections:
Why cardio helps us burn fat
First you must understand the basics - to lose weight you must be in a calorie deficit. Very simply explained, this can be obtained by either eating less or exercising more. Including cardio in your training plan is a great way to improve your overall fitness capacity as well as burning off those extra couple hundred calories that might be needed to achieve a calorie deficit (aka. burn fat).
However, we want to make sure we burn fat and not muscle, which is why it’s important you
Keep up a consistent strength training program
Eat a high-protein diet
Don’t make your calorie deficit too big
If your calorie deficit is too big, you’re not strength training, or you don’t regularly eat high protein, your body will start to break down muscle. This means you will still lose weight, but not necessarily burn fat.
Okay, time to learn how to incorporate cardio into your training plan.
Step 1: The golden rule for adding cardio to your routine ⭐️
If your goal is to burn fat while building muscle, any eligible personal trainer will tell you to focus more on strength training than cardio. Cardio should just be an "add-on" to your training - a "tool in the toolbox" that you can add slowly over time as you lose weight.
Unless your goal is to run a marathon or you simply just freaking love cardio, you shouldn't go "all in" with cardio from day 1 of your weight loss journey. Keep your training 90% strength training, 10% cardio.
Firstly, because doing cardio can be exhausting and you'll risk quickly burn yourself out if you do it every day.
Secondly, our bodies adapt and get used to what we do. Naturally your weight loss will slow down as weeks/months go by (you may even hit a plateau where it stops completely). This is where we want to use our "tool in the toolbox" and increase our cardio. However, if you’re already doing extensive cardio every day, it’s impossible to add even more.
Aim to start with 2-4 strength workouts and a total of 60 mins of cardio for the week.
Step 2: Cardio before or after your workout? 🏋🏼♀️
I always recommend doing your cardio after your workouts, or on a completely separate day. This means you can use most of your energy for the actual strength workout and can simply finish off by "sweating it out" on the cardio machine afterwards.
If you do cardio before your workout (for more than 5-10 minutes), you'll likely be more exhausted and not perform as well or lift as heavy during the workout.
It can also feel like a reward after an intense workout, to cool down on the cardio machine with a podcast or a show playing on your phone.
Step 3: The best type of cardio for fat loss 🏃🏼♀️
If your goal is to burn fat while building muscle, you should preferably do LISS cardio.
LISS stands for Low Intensity Steady State cardio and is cardio where you maintain the same heart rate and pace for a longer duration - typically 20-60 mins with a heart rate of 110-150.
LISS cardio can either be going for a run, a brisk walk or standing on a cardio machine.
The benefits of LISS cardio is:
It burns fat to use as fuel
It is less strain on joins and muscles
It doesn’t drain all your energy
Tip! Watch a show on your phone or listen to a podcast while doing cardio. It’s a great way to distract yourself from it 💦
Step 4: How to increase over time 📈
By now you have hopefully understood that cardio should be something you start with in small amounts and - if needed - add slowly over time. Otherwise you might risk burnout and fall off your weight loss journey after only a few weeks.
Start by doing 2-4 strength workouts and set a goal of 60 minutes of cardio for the week. This can for example be 15 minutes after 2 workouts and a 30 minute run on a separate day... or you can do all 60 mins at once.
Do this for a few weeks, while also focussing on optimising your nutrition. When you notice your weight loss progress stops, look at either optimising your nutrition further or increasing your weekly cardio by 15-30 minutes.
Cardio is an amazing addition to your training routine, and will not only to help you burn the extra calories you may need to lose weight, but also to improve your overall heart health and endurance. However, a common mistake is starting a weight loss journey by going "all in" from the beginning and too much cardio. By doing this, you risk losing muscle or burning yourself out too soon.
The most optimal way to burn fat while building muscle is by doing 90% strength training and 10% cardio. Aim to start with 2-4 strength workouts and a total of 60 mins of cardio for the week. Keep an eye on your progress and add cardio slowly over time as needed. If you are ready to get your own personalised training plan, sign up for the trainn app.
If you select the goal "burn fat and lose weight" you will be recommended a cardio goal to hit each week. Try to hit this every week for optimal results.
Ready to get sweating? 💪🏼
💡 To understand a calorie deficit, imagine this:
You have an empty glass. This glass represents the calories your body needs every day, and the water you poor in is the calories you eat. A very active person will have a bigger glass, than someone who is very inactive.
Every day your body needs to fill up the glass to the edge, no matter what.
But if you purposely don't fill up the glass to the edge (aka. eat less calories than you burn), your body will have to fill up the glass by taking from it's storages (aka. it will start to burn your fat storages to use as energy).
Personal trainer & founder of trainn
Hi, I'm Sarah Louise 👋🏼
I am one of the personal trainers on trainn, as well as the founder & creator of it all.
My aim is to take you on a personalised fitness journey to a body you love and a lifestyle you can maintain. Real advice. Real results.
After coaching thousands of clients for nearly a decade and gathering lots of experience, I have designed methods that are proven to make your results stick with you forever.
Take your fitness to the next level, regain confidence and create a consistent routine through personalised workouts, weekly goals, healthy habits & expert advice. All unique to you.
Start your fitness journey today